Consumer Electronics Show: Audi talks electric Spyders, Chinese-reading touchpads and accident prevention

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Audi is positioning itself as the maker of cars of the future -- specifically the Hollywood kind depicted in films such as ‘Minority Report’ and ‘I, Robot.’

Appropriate, then, that it was ‘I, Robot’ actor James Cromwell who introduced Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler before his keynote address at CES on Thursday.

“Are we talking about science fiction or science fact?” Stadler asked the audience after driving onstage in a prototype of his company’s e-tron Spyder, a plug-in electric hybrid. The car will feature a 9.1-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery and a 13.2-gallon fuel tank. It will be able to drive 621 miles without a refill and roar from zero to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds.

Tesla and Fisker may be looking over their shoulders now that Audi has shown off a roster of other electric models in the works, such as the all-electric R8 e-tron, which is coming in late 2012. The car can go up to 124 mph and drive 115 miles on one charge.


“Mobility will require sustainability, especially in the future,” Stadler said.

It apparently will also require a slew of cool in-car functions. Some Audi vehicles are to feature a touch pad that drivers can use to search their address book or write in a destination or phone number. Unlike many other recognition technologies, this one can decipher characters from Asian languages.

Audi is adding Google Earth to its navigation suite. Other systems from the automaker will soon also involve a “head-up system” that uses a laser to project information directly onto the windshield. Eventually, Stadler said, the navigation arrows will look like they’re overlaid directly on the road ahead.

And Audi cars may be able to prevent accidents by using a “pre-sense” safety system, Stadler said. The setup would cause the steering wheel to vibrate when drivers begin drifting into another lane or merging into other vehicles -- demonstrated with a video of a driverless test car.

In an emergency, the car would automatically begin to brake while tightening seatbelts, switching on the hazard lights and closing windows and the sun roof. And a “night vision assistant” would be able to pinpoint pedestrians in the dark on the cockpit display using a thermal imaging camera.

“We endeavor to stay ahead of our customers to not only give them what they want but what they really need,” Stadler said.


Audi’s e-ticket ride, the e-tron electric

Audi e-tron: Taking the e-train

CES: Toyota Entune and BMW ConnectedDrive telematics systems

-- Tiffany Hsu